“We’re all paying for a first-rate infrastructure but we’re getting a third world infrastructure.” Speaking as one of six panelists at Thursday’s Infrastructure and Climate Change Town Hall in Warren, Michigan, Michael Langford, national President of the Utility Workers Union of America, vowed to take the message of America’s deficient infrastructure and its ramifications for our cities, jobs and businesses on the road nationwide. Citing 600 burst water mains per day and seven billion gallons of spilled water across the U.S., Mr. Langford went on to say that the costs of loss are simply being passed on to businesses and consumers in lieu of investing in an infrastructure that would create jobs and reduce service interruptions.
Hosted by the Blue Green Alliance, the panel of labor and environmental leaders came together because of the 2013 report by the America Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) which gave U.S. infrastructure a D+. The grade represented only a modest improvement since the last report card in 2009 when U.S. infrastructure was given a D. With the recent collapse of a bridge in Washington and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy in recent memory, the panel called on leaders and Americans to demand stronger action for infrastructure upgrades.
“If Thomas Edison were to come back today, he’d feel right at home with America’s electrical system because not much has changed in the past century…” Langford lamented, “…on the East Coast where the electrical infrastructure was torn apart by Hurricane Sandy, they’re replacing the old system with exactly the same thing…meanwhile China is putting up power lines with only a 7 percent loss over 1200 miles. Anybody know what our system’s loss is over 1200 miles? Eighty percent.” As utilities prepare to build new power plants, how much money could consumers save in the long run if greater efficiency in our infrastructure reduced the number of power plants we use to merely make up for transmission loss?
Brian Pallasch, managing director of the American Society of Civil Engineers also talked directly about expenses associated with our aging infrastructure, warning that if we neglect it as we have, the costs will fall on families to the tune of $3,000 per year in lost time, lost service, more repairs on cars that travel on pot-holed roads, “Americans use two billion gallons of gasoline just sitting in traffic.” That’s unnecessary fossil fuel burning while Americans spend hours less time with their families each day because our roads aren’t suited to the level of traffic and our mass transit is not adequate.
The ASCE report predicts that businesses will shoulder an even larger cost if the American infrastructure continues to deteriorate. By 2020, American businesses could see a $1.2 trillion (that’s Trillion), increase in cost from “transportation delays, blackouts and brownouts, and water main breaks.” If we look at New Orleans alone, as pointed out by Roxanne Brown, Assistant Legislative Director for the United Steelworkers, it was ultimately a failure of infrastructure, the levees, that devastated a commanding share of the city in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. An example of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Many businesses never recovered.
Panelists argued that climate change is altering weather patterns in unpredictable ways with an increase in extreme weather events, and our current infrastructure is not up to the task of withstanding extra strain.
Funding shortfalls for a durable, up-to-date infrastructure are calculated by the ASCE to be $1.6 trillion. Between the estimated $1.2 trillion a deteriorating infrastructure will cost businesses, and $611 billion it will cost households, America would come out ahead with a full upgrade.
During the question and answer period, Michael Langford closed by suggesting that the key to getting people fired up about improving the U.S. infrastructure is to talk about it from the perspective of day-to-day issues people face, finally saying, “For every billion dollars we spend on infrastructure, we create 20,000 jobs.”
[image credit: Eric Justian]